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As Solar + Storage Ready Becomes A Title 24 Mandate, Smart Technology Helps Flatten The Complexity Curve

If you’re a builder or electrician living in California, you’re probably already thinking about how to meet the State’s latest leap toward net zero: mandated solar and storage in every new house.

As part of the 2022 Energy Code, California has enacted a solar + storage ready mandate. Why? The answer is multi-faceted. The State lies on the front lines of climate change, with worsening wildfires, drought, power outages, and maxed-out energy demands.

California has had a solar PV mandate since 2019, and just passed another mandate phasing out gas-powered cars by 2035. Compared to most states, they’re taking the fast track to phasing out CO2.

The storage decision has its detractors. Battery systems are costly, lithium supplies are volatile, disposal and reuse strategies for batteries are not always robust, and not everyone wants or needs a solar battery in their garage. Or do they?

The Square D Energy Center smart panel from Schneider Electric does far more than simply keep circuits safe. It offers flexible control over solar arrays and battery storage that help contractors meet the new Title 24 mandate for 2023.
California is feeling an enormous energy pinch, due at least in part to climate extremes. The State barely avoided having to trigger rolling blackouts this fall , and has warned residents that the next heat wave may not be as manageable.

At its core, California’s policies aim to spread the burdens of climate change to the private sector, because institutional electricity grids and entities simply can’t keep up. Given that reality, the best policy for builders and developers could be to streamline the change rather than resist it.

One way to do that is with smarter home technology. What I mean by this are homes that operate more like sophisticated commercial properties, prioritizing systems and appliances, and powering down items that don’t share the same life safety or communication weight.

Right-Sizing PV & Storage Systems

Adding battery storage to new homes creates a lot of new complexity in the home’s electrical infrastructure. First, the PV array and storage have to be sized correctly. At the risk of oversimplification, the required PV output has to total at least 14 watts per square foot for all available solar access roof areas (SARA). These roof areas include any roofs on carports and outbuildings capable of supporting solar panels.

The batteries, on the other hand, must conform to a capacity formula based on array size and other factors. You can access the formula in this detailed article.

Batteries are costly, of course, and can double the cost of a panel-only install. EnergySage puts the average storage cost at $1322 kWh installed, as of October 2022.

But California has some solid incentive programs. For example, the Self-Generation Incentive Program (SGIP) offers rebates for battery storage based on system capacity. It’s a tiered rate based on first-come-first-serve applicants, but a 10 kWh installation can qualify for a $1500 to $2000 incentive.

Batteries, like solar panels, are eligible for a 30% Federal tax credit. So if homeowners spend $10,000 on batteries, for instance, they should get a $3000 tax break in the year of purchase. Up until 2023, batteries must be 100% charged by solar; however, as of 2023, standalone battery storage systems also earn the credit. This change creates an incentive for existing building owners (with or without solar arrays) to add battery storage.

Keep in mind the end goal here. California utilities are looking for the most affordable way to add more storage capacity to the grid overall. They see the all-electric movement coming on strong, and are trying to avoid shouldering all of the new production.

Unlike traditional electrical panels, the Energy Center ties to an app that offers much greater transparency to homeowners looking to manage their energy use, making it a powerful tool to manage their onsite energy production and more.

Unlike traditional electrical panels, the Energy Center ties to an app that offers much greater transparency to homeowners looking to manage their energy use making it a powerful tool to manage their onsite energy production and more. Image courtesy of Green Builder

How Do Electrical Service Panels Enter the Equation?

Kevin Prill, President of Asgard Energy in Oceanside, Calif., says the addition of a storage mandate to California’s Energy Code has sent installers looking for timesavers and assistive tech.

With serendipitous timing, Schneider Electric has recently released its newest smart electrical panel, The Square D Energy Center. Developed initially for commercial buildings, it takes the place of a traditional electrical panel, offering sophisticated, granular-level control of individual circuits.

“The Square D Panel from Schneider Electric is tackling what the industry is running into in terms of storage and solar,” Prill says. “The Energy Center saves us time, and allows us to easily jump in and control the power flow. It just affects the bottom line when we’re able to pass on the savings.”

The Energy Center offers smartphone-enabled control of the smart electrical panel. Homeowners can use it to gauge and control power use in the home. Contractors can hand it off to clients with almost unlimited customization. An Energy Center electrical panel eliminates the need for a secondary load panel, and allows wiring for both full home and partial home back-up.

What’s important in terms of Title 24 solar + storage compliance is the electrical panel’s ability to manage both day-to-day power usage and emergency situations.

For example, some versions of the Energy Center have built-in transfer capabilities that will isolate the electrical panel from the grid in an outage automatically, then restore grid input when power comes back on (the Universal model does not have this feature). Some hybrid inverters used with solar arrays do this, of course, but they do little else.

The Energy Center has many other functions, including controlling and monitoring power usage for individual circuits.

Essentially, the smart panel acts as a sort of user-friendly swiss army knife for the homeowner. Not only does it provide the code-required surge protections and wiring fail-safes, but adds a sophisticated overlay of command and control.

Perks for Homeowners

Because it works with a smartphone app interface, Schneider’s smart panel offers a good narrative for upselling to homeowners. For example, homeowner Jorge Lopez of Costa Mesa, Calif., upgraded to a smart panel, and used the real-time energy information to reduce energy costs.

“I was able to change the times for my pool, my AC equipment, and how I use my washer and dryer and other appliances, he says. Plus I’ve gotten a lot of compliments on how the panel looks, from both friends and electrical contractors.”

Article courtesy of Green Builder

By Matt Power. Veteran journalist Matt Power has reported on innovation and sustainability in housing for nearly three decades. An award-winning writer, editor, and filmmaker, he has a long history of asking hard questions and adding depth and context as he unfolds complex issues.

Related Story: 5 Facts About Energy Storage That Every Californian Should Know

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